Two months after announcing his decision to seek a CBI investigation into a “major scam” in the acquisition of farmland in Udham Singh Nagar district for the widening of NH 74, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said Thursday that his government would now seek legal opinion on the scope of such a probe.
Rawat’s latest comments came after a meeting in New Delhi on Thursday evening with Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) chairman Yudhvir Singh Malik.
On April 5, Gadkari had warned in a letter to the newly elected Chief Minister that a CBI probe into the alleged scam “would have an adverse impact on the morale of the officers” and the ministry “would have to re-examine the usefulness for taking up more projects in the state”.
On Thursday, Rawat said that both he and Gadkari believed in zero-tolerance against corruption.
“Does not matter if one is from the NHAI or the state, the guilty will be punished. The NHAI chief, however, explained to me that the Authority’s role in land acquisition is only as a fund-disbursing agency. So, we will seek legal opinion — from the attorney general, if necessary — on the scope of the CBI probe,” said Rawat.
In March, Uttarakhand sought a CBI probe into the alleged scam on the basis of a report submitted by Kumaon Commissioner Senthil Pandiyan. At a press conference on March 25, Chief Minister Rawat had said that the SIT probing the irregularities would hand over investigations to the CBI as many departments involved in the alleged scam do not come under the state government.
“Irregularities worth Rs 240 crore have been detected in the acquisition of farmland for the purpose of the proposed NH-74 in Udham Singh Nagar district between 2011-2016. Farmland was shown as non-agricultural land to increase the compensation amount by at least 20 times to benefit chosen stakeholders and beneficiaries,” Rawat had said, adding that the amount siphoned of was bound to rise as only 18 cases were detected till then.
However, Gadkari wrote in the letter that he was “greatly concerned about recent developments in the state”.
“Firstly, an FIR was launched by the district administration of Udham Singh Nagar in the matter of awards finalised by CALA (SLAO), who is a revenue functionary of the state government. Not only that, a CBI inquiry has also been ordered by the government of Uttarakhand on the mater in which the NHAI officers are being investigated,” Gadkari wrote.
The Union Minister underlined in the letter that these “actions by the government of Uttarakhand are bound to have adverse impact on the morale of the officers and would impede implementation of projects”.
Concluding the letter with a veiled warning, Gadkari wrote: “In this background, we would have to re-examine the usefulness for taking up more projects in the state. I am certain you will appreciate the significance of the issues that I have pointed out and take immediate corrective measures to resolve the impasse.”
Gadkari did not respond to queries from The Indian Express on whether his letter amounted to arm-twisting the state government.
Sources in Gadkari’s office said that the Minister “had to make the point since NHAI top brass had informed him that key officials had left the state after being summoned repeatedly by state police and project work was being affected”.
Uttarakhand Minister for Urban Development and state government spokesperson Madan Kaushik said there was “nothing about not taking up new projects” in Gadkari’s letter. On Thursday, Rawat said Gadkari had assured him about converting 22 state roads to national highways and a number of other projects.
The SLAO (special land acquisition officer) under CALA (Competent Authority for Land Acquisition) mentioned in Gadkari’s letter refers to either Dinesh Pratap Singh or Anil Kumar Shukla, both suspended by the state government over this issue.
Sub-divisional magistrates Surendra Singh Jangpangi, Jagdish Lal, Bhagat Singh Phonia and N S Nagnyal were also suspended over the issue. Officials said that most of the land in question is located in Jaspur, Kashipur, Bajpur and Sitarganj areas of Udham Singh Nagar.